Fast excitatory synaptic transmission in the mammalian central nervous system is mediated by glutamate-activated α-amino-5-methyl-3-hydroxy-4-isoxazole propionate (AMPA) receptors. In neurons, AMPA receptors coassemble with transmembrane AMPA receptor regulatory proteins (TARPs). Assembly with TARP γ8 alters the biophysical properties of the receptor, producing resensitization currents in the continued presence of glutamate. Using single-channel recordings, we show that under resensitizing conditions, GluA2 AMPA receptors primarily transition to higher conductance levels, similar to activation of the receptors in the presence of cyclothiazide, which stabilizes the open state. To study the conformation associated with these states, we have used single-molecule FRET and show that this high-conductance state exhibits tighter coupling between subunits in the extracellular parts of the receptor. Furthermore, the dwell times for the transition from the tightly coupled state to the decoupled states correlate to longer open durations of the channels, thus correlating conformation and function at the single-molecule level.
Glutamate is released from presynaptic nerve terminals in the central nervous system (CNS) and spreads excitation by binding to and activating postsynaptic iGluRs. Of the potential glutamate targets, tetrameric AMPA receptors mediate fast, transient CNS signaling. Each of the four AMPA subunits in the receptor channel complex is capable of binding glutamate at its ligand-binding domains and transmitting the energy of activation to the pore domain. Homotetrameric AMPA receptor channels open in a stepwise manner, consistent with independent activation of individual subunits, and they exhibit complex kinetic behavior that manifests as temporal shifts between four different conductance levels. Here, we investigate how two AMPA receptor-selective noncompetitive antagonists, GYKI-52466 and GYKI-53655, disrupt the intrinsic step-like gating patterns of maximally activated homotetrameric GluA3 receptors using single-channel recordings from cell-attached patches. Interactions of these 2,3-benzodiazepines with residues in the boundary between the extracellular linkers and transmembrane helical domains reorganize the gating behavior of channels. Low concentrations of modulators stabilize open and closed states to different degrees and coordinate the activation of subunits so that channels open directly from closed to higher conductance levels. Using kinetic and structural models, we provide insight into how the altered gating patterns might arise from molecular contacts within the extracellular linker-channel boundary. Our results suggest that this region may be a tunable locus for AMPA receptor channel gating.